The Ember Days were once Holy Days of Obligation on the Church Calendar (up to the late Middle Ages); the observance of Ember days is now optional after the revision of the Church calendar in 1969. Their history and connection with the celebration of and thanksgiving for the seasonal times of the year as well as the liturgical time they find themselves couched within fascinates me.
The Embertide, “Four Seasons” or “Quatuor Tempora” in Latin, are one of the few times the Church year links itself with the celebration of the seasonal year, offering thanksgiving and prayers for the specific harvest of that season. The four Embertides, observed on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, are meant to serve as mini-Lents, or periods of spiritual renewal. They are:
:: Summer or Whit Embertide (follows the Feast of the Pentecost – or Whitsunday) and focuses on the descent of the Holy Spirit while offering thansgiving for the grain harvest.
:: Autumnal or Michaelmas Embertide (Follows the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross in September) the Mass is focused on thanksgiving for the harvest and the seasonal thanksgiving is offered for the harvest of grapes and the wine that follows.
:: Winter or Advent Embertide (follows the third Sunday of Advent) the Mass focuses on expectation of the Lord and is a time of prayer for successful sowing as well as giving thanks for the harvest of olives.
:: Spring or Lenten Embertide (after the first Sunday of Lent) the Mass focuses on the penance and prayer characteristic of Lent and is a time to give thanks for the awakening of nature.
Traditionally, the three days within Embertides have specific focuses as well:
:: Ember Wednesdays are always dedicated to Our Lady and interior reflection on the past quarter – graces received, our cooperation with those graces, did they bear fruit?, is there a spiritual harvest? Ember Wednesdays are days of partial abstinence – so one meat meal can be taken that day.
:: Ember Fridays are days of penance, but these are to be days of joy in penance! They are days of complete abstinence from meat.
:: Ember Saturdays are days of thanksgiving for all the benefits and graces received from the past quarter year. Since the end of the 5th century, Ember Saturdays have been the preferred day for ordinations so it would be fitting on this day to pray especially for an increase in vocations to the Church as well as in thanksgiving for those preparing for ordination as well as those being ordained on this day. Ember Saturdays are days of partial abstinence from meat.
The Summer or Whit Embertide follows Whitsunday, or the Feast of the Pentecost. It is observed in June or July depending on when Pentecost falls that year. The Mass themes are the Church’s journey through the ages, led by the Holy Ghost.
“Gratitude, not penance, should be the dominant Ember spirit. Even fasting can be an act of thanksgiving!”Pius Parsch, Year of Grace, Volume 3, Ember Wednesday
Liturgical significance: Summer or Whit Embertide falls within the Octave of Pentecost. It is fitting then that this Embertide, though still a mini-Lenten time of fasting, is characterized by great joy at the descent of the Holy Spirit. This Embertide is characterized by its spirit of thanksgiving and joy at the descent of the Holy Spirit.
I put up some recipes and menu ideas for living the Summer Ember Days at my post on Catholic Cuisine – go pick some strawberries and make some menu plans!